Written by Boaz Yakin
Art by Joe Infurnari
192 pages, sepia-tone
Published by First Second Books
It’s no secret that I’ve been a distance-runner for a little over a decade; I ran my first marathon in 2001, and have run 11 of the events (plus numerous half-marathons and shorter distance races, and more recently a handful of triathlons). A comic about the origin of the marathon, as a result, should be the ultimate attraction to me as it mixes two of my obsessions. What I found in Marathon by Boaz Yakin and Joe Infurnari, though, was a graphic novel where one of the creators does all of the heavy lifting.
Marathon takes a classic story about the origin of the run from Marathon to Athens, one involving a runner named Eucles. While most people are more familiar with someone named Pheidippides, there’s debate on what his name was, depending on the historical document, and Yakin goes for the less-common Eucles. (There’s also some confusion, once again based on which document you read, on where exactly the messenger ran.) Here, though, Eucles first runs to Sparta to ask for assistance in stopping the Persian army, then heads from there to the battle of Marathon, and finally back to Athens; in the process, clocking over 300 miles.
And when it comes to running, trust me when I say that Infurnari is a great artist to tackle this graphic novel. I love what he does with his style here; it’s quite different than where I first encountered his drawings with Borrowed Time, but it’s no less enthralling. It’s a loose, almost jagged style here, light on backgrounds but heavy on detail. At a glance you might almost think that Marathon is a collection of sketches (once you look close you’ll realize just how much time and detail was put into Infurnari’s drawings), and I think that’s absolutely the right approach to take. Marathon is supposed to be a fast-paced book for most of its pages, and that frantic, dashed off look helps bring that idea to life. No matter what the writing is doing, Infurnari brings to mind the idea of a ticking clock; short of putting one in the corner like the television show 24, there’s no way Infurnari could have kept that ever-increasing deadline out of our mind. Eucles and company run and climb in ways that make you feel almost like you’re along side them, encouraging them on, and Marathon ends up looking quite handsome.
Unfortunately, Yakin’s script does not live up to the art that illustrates it. Yakin has written both comics and movies, but if I didn’t know better based on Marathon I’d have assumed it was only the latter. Marathon‘s script has to me all the hallmarks of a movie pitch; the wife of Eucles who waits for him to come home because they want to have a baby, the personal grudge that Eucles and enemy general Hippias carry for one another, or the way that the run from Marathon to Athens starts with a larger group that then has to go through multiple obstacles and attackers as the numbers get whittled down to just Eucles running on his own. It’s cheesy and full of cliché, and over and over again I found myself groaning. The initial point of no return is probably when Eucles’ wife has her own mini-run across the city in a moment that’s no doubt meant to be both inspiring and emblematic of Eucles’ own run, but instead feels forced and tacky. Instead of making Marathon full of rich characters alongside Eucles—something that I don’t think was necessary—it instead feels cheap and populated with stereotypes. Yakin’s had good scripts written in the past, but Marathon isn’t among that number.
Ultimately, when reading Marathon if you skim over the words and just focus on Infurnari’s art, you’ll be quite pleased. It’s a beautifully drawn book, and it’s a reminder to me that Infurnari is one of those comic artists whom I’ve always felt deserved a lot more attention. There’s no doubt in my mind that one day he will be a comic book superstar. Unfortunately, even though Infurnari is by far the hero of Marathon, I don’t think it’s going to be from this graphic novel. It looks fantastic, but the script just never quite gets there.